More council cuts to come

Councillor Simon Blackburn at Blackpool Town Hall
Councillor Simon Blackburn at Blackpool Town Hall
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COUNCIL tax bills in Blackpool are being frozen – but town hall chiefs today warned further cuts to services are inevitable.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said there would be further job losses but he hoped to restrict compulsory redundancies to less than 100.

The council has had its grant from Government cut by £5.4m but further budget pressures, including rising energy costs, mean it must find a total of £10m savings.

It follows on from last year’s cuts of £27m which saw 750 jobs axed including around 350 compulsory redundancies.

But the town hall’s portion of the council tax, by far the largest element, will be frozen for the second consecutive year – although final bills could still rise slightly if the police or fire service raise their precepts.

Lancashire County Council, Wyre and Fylde councils are also freezing their elements of the council tax.

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The Government has pledged around £800m will be doled out in grants to help local authorities avoid an increase.

In Blackpool, householders living in Band D properties, taken as the average, pay £1,516 a year. It is estimated freezing the levy for a second year will save the average family £72.

Coun Blackburn said: “We are on balance going to accept the council tax freeze grant.

“I believe families in Blackpool are already under tremendous financial pressure and I can’t justify not taking it. This does transfer pressure onto following years rather than being sustainable.”

This year’s budget is expected to be in the region of £145m.

Coun Blackburn said the £10m savings would be found from tight financial controls including a restructure of senior management and cuts to councillors’ remuneration which would save £3m over four years.

The latest changes in senior management will save £617,000 over four years with the departures of executive director for children, adults and family services David Lund, and Shirley Young, director of the Blackpool Services Directorate.

Since coming into power last May, the Labour administration has already axed five senior roles including that of tourism director, saving £1.8m over four years.

It means only chief executive Neil Jack remains on a six figure salary, at £100,000.

Individual departmental reviews also found efficiency savings, with children’s services among the departments set to under-spend in the current financial year.

Savings of £1.5m will come from workers agreeing to take four days’ unpaid leave for the second consecutive year, but pay increments will be re-introduced and a scheme forcing council workers to pay for parking will be scrapped.

Coun Blackburn added: “We will set a balanced budget which we believe reflects the priorities of the town.

“Will it be a fair budget? No, because we’ll end up taking services off people who need them and end up losing staff we should be keeping.

“But I am confident it will be fairer than the budget the Conservatives produced in February and would produce again, given the choices I have been presented with.

“We already have been able to save libraries and Hoyle House, and autistic children’s play groups from closure.

“I would hope that by the end of the process we will be looking at less than 100 compulsory redundancies.”

Voluntary redundancies are being sought in all council departments, and until consultation is completed it is not known exactly how many posts could be lost although unions are predicting the final figure could be as high as 200.

Peter Evans, leader of the Conservatives, said his party would be “watching very closely” to see how services will be affected.

He said: “I do understand the constraints the Labour party is under.

“Reading between the lines I do wonder if they’re worried they will not be able to provide adequate services because of these restraints.

“I know two service directors have already offered to take redundancy and we are seeing more departments being merged.

“The Conservatives will be watching services given to children, elderly and vulnerable residents very closely.”

Gwen King, from Queen’s Park Residents Association in Layton, said: “Anything that keeps bills down is welcome in this financial climate.

“I do welcome the fact the senior management structure has been reviewed, but extra cuts to services which have already suffered is a concern.”

Maureen Horn, chairman of Grange Park Residents Association, said: “Families are really struggling with bills, especially with the hike in prices of food and petrol.

“There is no doubt this news will be welcomed.

“Cuts to services are always a worry but I think people will be glad to receive any news of a freeze in bills.”